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Published Tue, Dec 04, 2012 08:00 PM
Modified Tue, Dec 11, 2012 07:46 PM

Weapons fire leads to charges

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- dquizon@newsobserver.com

The Willow Spring man locked in a months-long dispute with his neighbors over shooting on his property was charged last week with violating the county’s new noise ordinance.

James Whitlock III, 31, of 121 Oak Ridge Drive., was arrested Nov. 26 and charged with several violations of the county’s noise and firearms ordinances. According to sheriff’s reports, Whitlock violated the noise ordinance — passed earlier this year — by firing a firearm “continuously” in a manner that was “loud and unreasonably disturbing to the community.”

He was charged also with violating the county’s firearms ordinance by firing his weapons carelessly, although the report did not specify how.

Whitlock posted a $5,000 bond and was released the same day

The Johnston County Sheriff’s Office made the arrest. Spokeswoman Tammy Amaon said the arrest followed a series of complaints by neighbors.

“It was just numerous complaints of hundreds of rounds (being fired) a day,” she said.

Whitlock said he had reached out to neighbors and sheriff’s investigators to try to resolve their differences. He said he’d asked investigators to sit down with him and the neighbors to work out a deal: They’d come to an agreement on the definition of “loud and disturbing” and what times of day are off limits for shooting.

“They haven’t responded to us,” he said. “Instead, they just arrested me on the 26th.”

Whitlock said he had shot and killed a couple of squirrels on his property, and he cited a part of the noise ordinance that exempts hunting from the list of activities that make “loud and disturbing” noise. He declined to comment any further because the case is still pending. His trial date is Dec. 6.

This isn’t the first run-in Whitlock has had with the noise ordinance. He was arrested earlier in November for two violations of the ordinance in October.

Whitlock was at the center of the controversy that created the new noise ordinance. His neighbors in Oak Ridge subdivision had complained to the county since spring about his shooting practices. Neighbors said he fired his weapons constantly in a way that disturbed the peace and made them feel unsafe.

Whitlock said his neighbors were being abusive and mischaracterizing his shooting practices.

County officials said he was not technically violating local ordinances. Neighbors disagreed but asked county commissioners to expand the firearms and noise laws anyway.

Under relentless pressure from Oak ridge residents, commissioners passed a new version of the noise ordinance in September. The new ordinance allowed sheriff’s deputies more discretion in judging what constitutes “loud and unreasonable” noise.

The ordinance did not single out gunfire, but it still incensed gun owners throughout the county. They filled the commissioners’ meeting room the day the ordinance passed to speak out against it. Whitlock sent the Herald an email shortly afterward saying the law was “unconstitutionally vague and would create a standard so subjective that it could not possibly be uniformly enforced.” Still, he said he intended to be “safe, reasonable and comply with the law.”

Sheriff’s Capt. Chris Strickland said his department had visited Whitlock on “numerous occasions” since the ordinance passed to stop the noise. He would not speak any further about the investigation.

Quizon: 919-836-5768

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